Ornithoptera Series


More about the Paintings

Superficially the paintings describe the rare Birdwing, or Ornithoptera, butterflies of tropical New Guinea. but, as most of them fly above the treetops, I am really concerned to paint the canopy of the forest on which they depend. For me the leaf structures, patterning, colour and surface quality are of the greatest importance.

For the past thirty years I have been interested in plant structures and growth patterns and recently spent a fair bit of time studying and photographing tropical plants and leaves in Borneo and Malaysia. I have occasionally painted from photographs but I prefer to design imagined leaf structures knowing that somewhere in the jungle canopy there is probably a tree that looks like my invention. I have only once tried to paint the Aristolocia vines on which the ornithoptera caterpillars feed.

I paint with acrylic on 1/8 inch birch ply. With some works I include pieces of local wood, with others pieces of recycled tropical hardwoods. My intention is to ask,“ When, under what circumstances, and for what purposes should tropical and temperate woods be used?”

At present I am completing 4 different series each depicting the 11 recognized species, and some subspecies, of Ornithoptera Butterflies.

Ornithoptera Goliath

Goliath Birdwing

This is thought to be the second largest butterfly after the Queen Alexandria’s Birdwing. It is found mostly in Papua New Guinea though some sub species are found in northern Irian Jaya and adjacent Islands. It lives in both primary and secondary forest from the lowlands to the highlands. As with all birdwings it breeds on the aristolachia vine, the poisons of which are passed on to the adults or imagos.

  • It was first described in 1888.
  • There are considered to be 8 subspecies.
  • The males have a wingspan of up to 20 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 22 cm.

It is classified as Vulnerable in the ‘Red Data Book of Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World’.

Ornithopetra goliath 2
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Acrylic on birch ply & cherry
h 16” w 27.5”
40cm x 69.5cm